Plying the Atlantic in a plywood barrel

Mr Jean-Jacques Savin, 71, getting his barrel ready to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Mr Jean-Jacques Savin, 71, getting his barrel ready to cross the Atlantic Ocean.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BORDEAUX (France) • A 71-year-old Frenchman set sail across the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday in a barrel-shaped orange capsule, hoping to reach the Caribbean within three months, thanks to the ocean currents alone.

"The weather is great - I've got a swell of 1m, and I'm moving at 2kmh or 3kmh," Mr Jean-Jacques Savin said by telephone after setting off from El Hierro in Spain's Canary Islands.

Mr Savin had worked on his vessel for months in the small shipyard of Ares on the south-west coast of France.

Measuring 3m long and 2.1m across, it is made from resin-coated plywood, heavily reinforced to resist waves and potential attacks by orca whales.

Inside the capsule, which weighs 450kg when empty, is a 6 sq m living space that includes a kitchen, sleeping bunk and storage. A porthole in the floor allows Mr Savin to look at passing fish.

A former military parachutist who served in Africa, Mr Savin has also worked as a pilot and a national park ranger.

He has stowed away a block of foie gras and a bottle of Sauternes white wine for New Year's Eve, along with a bottle of red Saint-Emilion for his 72nd birthday on Jan 14.

Along the way, Mr Savin will be dropping markers for the Jcommops international marine observatory to help its oceanographers study the currents.

He himself will be the subject of a study on the effects of solitude in close confinement.

Even the wine on board will be studied: He is carrying a Bordeaux to be compared afterwards with one kept on land to determine the effects of months spent tossed on the waves.

Mr Savin has a budget of €60,000 (S$94,000) for his expedition, covered in part by barrelmakers and a crowdfunding campaign.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2018, with the headline 'Plying the Atlantic in a plywood barrel'. Print Edition | Subscribe